Your Humble Monarch™ has joined an exciting new blog project, The Feminist Hivemind, which launches today at noon Eastern. Hatched from the Pharyngula commentariat, The Hivemind is conceived as an inclusive “place for secular feminists to write about and discuss the topics that are important to us without having to fight to be heard.” The Palace has already bequeathed an extensive collection of references from our library for the site’s Feminism 101 page, and our first piece is scheduled to post June 21. (I will most likely cross-post it here.)
Perhaps of interest to Loyal Readers™ is that Wednesdays at the Hivemind are reserved for postings by feminist persons of the d00d persuasion, which I think is a fantastic idea all around. Although I have no idea why, the majority of the Palace’s readership is comprised of d00ds, who may or may not spend time in other feminist spaces. Thus it is understandable that some readers may have no awareness of the nature and extent of the harassment and abuse directed at women* in general, and at feminist women in particular (although feminist men are hardly immune) in movement atheism, by other atheists — and that’s to say nothing of the misogynist shitstorm that is our culture at large. In fact, a few of my Many Tens of Loyal Readers™ are men that I know very well and love very much, who in response to my writing about my own or other women’s experiences, and related issues such as consent, privilege or being a feminist ally, have privately expressed to me on more than one occasion that they “don’t get it.” (In some cases they have gone to great lengths to prove that this is so, including right here on this very blog.)
There is very good reason that men sometimes do not grok how women’s lives are negatively affected by our gender: harassment directed at women rarely occurs when we are in the presence of men we know. For example, I do not know of a single one of my female friends, acquaintances or co-workers in New York City who has not been sexually molested on a subway train, and I have asked many of them. Not one. For the predatory men from all walks of life who seek this kind of thrill, a crowded train car provides an ideal hunting ground. One can easily observe whether a woman is entering a train car alone, maneuver up behind her, then grind his groin up against her. Or perhaps he will grope her between her legs with his hands. The tightly crowded space along with the rocking and jolting of a subway ride provides easy cover, and of course plausible deniability that such actions are intentional. The target, however, has no doubt.
I don’t know if I can adequately express to men who have not been sexually assaulted themselves what it is like to be on the receiving end of such ministrations. It’s degrading, enraging, saddening, dehumanizing and humiliating in the extreme. Unsurprisingly, it can also be powerfully triggering for rape survivors and victims of other forms of abuse: your body is being used by a stranger without your consent. And that is not incidental because humiliation of the victim is the point. The feeling it engenders is one of terrifying helplessness. And there is little or nothing one can do about it. It comes down to your word against his, and we all know how that generally works out. You were wearing a short skirt? You were out drinking? Well, what did you think would happen?
But here’s the thing: this does not happen to women when we get on a crowded train car in the obvious company of a man. Neither does catcalling or street harassment. My Amazing Lover™ does not ever witness the lewd remarks lobbed in my direction and the demands to smile as I pass an average, harmless-looking man on the street. Nor does he ever hear the comments that sometimes follow when I ignore this man. Fucking bitch. Stuck-up whore. What, you’re too good for me? Slut. I just keep walking, hoping he does not follow me, seeking safe places or groups of people, in case he does.
Such incidents do not happen to me every day, but you can be sure they are happening to many, many women right now, as you are reading this. Thankfully, it is a relatively small portion of men who engage in predatory behavior, but those who do are serial harassers. These incidents occur out of the blue, when they are least expected, and from men one would never suspect at first glance of harboring a demanding sense of entitlement to women’s attention, to their bodies, to their psyches. They happen in the context of a lifetime spent navigating millions of misogynist microaggressions, all of which contribute to an internalized, often unconscious sense among men and women alike that women are less than. Less than smart. Less than strong. Less than trustworthy. Less than capable. Less than respectable. Less than deserving. Less than autonomous. Less than free. Less than men.
In an earlier post I wrote about some @$$hole named Karla Porter attempting to sic the Westboro Baptists on CFI’s Women in Secularism conference (they were no-shows, by the way). But Ms. Porter’s nasty little tweets did not occur in a vacuum. At this link is a small sample of the vile shit directed at popular skeptic speaker, Rebecca Watson. It does not include links to the blogs entirely devoted to hating and demeaning Rebecca Watson, videos people have made to humiliate and rage at her, pictures of her head pasted onto debasing pornography, or the actual, credible rape and death threats she has reported to police. One might wonder, reasonably enough, what grave transgression of Ms. Watson’s would elicit such a reaction. Well, her crime was suggesting that “Guys, don’t do that” in a video two years ago. Seriously, that’s all she said: “guys, don’t do that.” She made this suggestion in response to an unfamiliar d00d who creeped her out in a conference hotel elevator at 4 a.m. Earlier that day, she had given a talk at that conference about diversity, sexual harassment and making women feel welcome and safe in the movement, and she expressed in that very presentation that being sexualized at conferences makes her (and a lot of other women) uncomfortable. Given the context in which women navigate the world, it should hardly be offensive that this is good advice: do not follow a woman you have never met alone to an elevator bank in a hotel in a foreign city at 4 a.m., and proposition her once she is in the enclosed space with you. Even if you are not a creep, and this is just your wildly inept way of flirting with a woman you’ve never spoken to who has just announced to a group of people that (a) being sexualized at conferences makes her very uncomfortable, and (b) she’s tired and going to bed, it is still fucking creepy. Because even if you are not a creep, that is precisely what an actual creep would do. And the reason women know this is that we live in a world where we are routinely creeped on (to say nothing of our experiences of rape or domestic violence). Seriously: guys, don’t do that.
The backlash against Rebecca Watson was blindingly swift. She was accused of calling all men rapists, of pathologizing male sexuality, of advocating a total ban on flirting, and too many other absurd distortions and bizarre interpretations to list here. It occurred to me at the time (as it has many times since) that when the overwhelmingly white and male atheist community decided they wanted to increase women’s attendance at conferences, it was not because they all valued women’s contributions (although some clearly do). They were not offering us a seat at the table (although some clearly were). They wanted women there purely for the purpose of their own entertainment.
Rebecca Watson continues to be viciously harassed to this day, as do many who speak out to defend her. So does Jen McCreight. Ophelia Benson. Amy Davis Roth. The brave and brilliant Greta Christina, who has been open about her battles with depression and who recently suffered through the death of her father and a bout with cancer, is relentlessly called ugly, “unrapeable” (as if that’s a thing), and urged to kill herself. Also: “Stick a knife in your cunt.”
If you are interested in “getting it,” if you are interested in making this a better world for women — and I sincerely hope that you are, just as I am interested in making this a better world for people of color, for trans* people, for gay and lesbian people, for poor people, and for other intersectional groups to which I do not personally belong, including men — The Feminist Hivemind promises to be a good place to start. I hope you will check it out.
Launching noon Eastern today.
* It should go without saying but in case it doesn’t: in this space “women” means “people who identify as women.” “Men” means “people who identify as men.” This is not intended to exclude people who identify as any other gender (or none), but for purposes of the subject matter under discussion here, including sexual harassment and sexual assault, the terms “women” and “men” provide a useful shorthand. It’s not that women never engage in predatory behavior, it’s that in the majority of instances of harassment and sexual violence, women are the victims and men are the perpetrators.